Deck the Halls With History

Throughout the ages, Christmas has been celebrated in some very different ways and with very different traditions.

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Managing Editor

As Christmas rolls ever closer, it’s time to start the yearly family traditions; get out the holly, roll out the Christmas lights, pick a tree, shop for gifts, mistletoe, wreaths, carols, tinsel, et cetera, et cetera. Sometimes modern Christmas traditions get a bit monotonous, don’t you think? Spruce up your Christmas with these ancient or nearly extinct traditions!

Role reversal

Around Christmas, almost everyone, even the churches, participated in this tradition. The youngest or lowest ranking person in a community or family was allowed to be in charge for a time. This was the time when a church boy became the part-time minister, toddlers ran Christmas parties, and servants became the masters. There was even a huge feast called the “Feast of Fools,” when everybody did this.

Dangerous (but fun) games

The holidays are a time for laughter and merriment, and what is more laughter-inducing than some good old-fashioned pain? The Victorians certainly thought so, and you can tell from their exciting arsenal of Christmas games. From Hide&, there was “Shoe the Mare,” where a player stands on a suspended wooden plank and tries to bang the bottom of the plank with a hammer ten times without falling off. There was also “Snapdragon,” in which a bowl of raisins is filled with brandy or wine and lit on fire; the aim of the game was to stick your hand through the flames and take out a raisin without burning yourself. Of course, you can’t ignore “Hot Cockles,” in which players struck a blindfolded person on the back and the blindfoldee needed to guess who it was. Wholesome family fun!

The Tudor Christmas pie

This was a staple of Christmas feasts for the wealthy. The pie consisted of a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon and was surrounded by hares and small game birds. Yum!

12 days of pies

This tradition is easy enough to do yourself. According to Mental Floss, for good luck, people would eat a mince pie every day, for the 12 days of Christmas. The pies were made with 13 ingredients, to represent Jesus and his Apostles, and were usually spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

The post-feast setting of the table

After the Christmas feast, the Irish would unlock the door and set the table a second time, with bread filled with raisins and caraway seeds, as well as a jug of milk and a candle. It was meant to symbolize welcome for Mary and Joseph or any wayward soul.

The Yule log

This Christmas tradition is still recognizable, though not in its original form. Before Christmas, people would find a big log, drag it inside, decorate it, and keep it burning in the fireplace for the 12 days of Christmas.


Carols are still very much alive, but they’re a little different nowadays. Take a look at this 15th-century carol “Adam Lay Ybounden.”

Adam lay ybounden,

Bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter,

Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,

An apple that he took.

As clerkes finden,

Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,

The apple taken been,

Ne had never our ladie,

Abeen heav’ne queen.

Blessed be the time

That apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen.

Deo gratias!

No offense to Adam, but I prefer “Frosty the Snowman.” Merry Christmas!